I Am Dead Yet I Live: Returning to ‘Twin Peaks’
WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS!
David Lynch and Mark Frost have provided a lot of surrealist humor on the new Twin Peaks, but in between the comedic parts there are a lot of enigmatic and terrifying things. One of the most unsettling things is that, for better or worse, fans finally get to see the manifestation of Evil Dale Cooper. In the context of a different character, Evil Coop might be like any of the other low-life criminal creeps who have populated Twin Peaks, such as Leo Johnson, Jacques Renault, or Hank Jennings. Nefarious, yes, but the kind of nefarious that is mundane in its predictability.
Yet the fact that Coop was “turned” into something so antithetical to the eternally curious, always chipper, and morally upstanding FBI agent we came to love makes his transformation that much more disturbing, with more than a whiff of the uncanny. It’s the uncanny that makes Twin Peaks so continually irresistible.
The “uncanny” is addressed by Sigmund Freud in his essay of the same name when he discusses the original German word “unheimlich“:
“In general we are reminded that the word ‘heimlich’ is not unambiguous, but belongs to two sets of ideas, which, without being contradictory, are yet very different: on the one hand it means what is familiar and agreeable, and on the other, what is concealed and kept out of sight.”
The characters that show up in the Red Room exist in a place that is concealed to the known, tangible world. They often look like characters on the show, but when they are in this nebulous waiting room, their strange movements and backwards speech belies an undercurrent of the uncanny.
Freud also mentions the uncanny in relation to losing one’s way and repeating one’s footsteps:
“So, for instance, when, caught in a mist perhaps, one has lost one’s way in a mountain forest, every attempt to find the marked or familiar path may bring one back again and again to one and the same spot, which one can identify by some particular landmark. Or one may wander about in a dark, strange room, looking for the door or the electric switch, and collide time after time with the same piece of furniture.”
In Twin Peaks, there are multiple instances of characters repeatedly walking around the Red Room, entering different hallways and rooms and retracing their steps. We see a slight variation of this in the third episode of Season 3 when Cooper falls into the concrete room after he plummets through space. There is a blind woman there who warns him to be quiet as someone or something pounds violently on the door. They exit through the ceiling of the room and the woman falls into space. Then Cooper returns to the room only to find a different woman there (Phoebe Augustine, who portrayed Ronette Pulaski). Are they intended to be different versions of the same person? Is it even the same room?
The most well-known example of the uncanny in Freud’s analysis is probably the idea of the double or döppelganger, what he refers to as “a thing of terror.” The idea of the döppelganger was introduced in Twin Peaks during its very first season with the discovery of the two different versions of Laura Palmer, as well as her cousin Maddy, and again in the second season with Leland Palmer/BOB and the döppelgangers of Laura, Caroline Earle, The Man From Another Place, and Cooper.
When discussing Otto Rank’s book on the double in "The Uncanny," Freud notes:
“For the ‘double’ was originally an insurance against the destruction of the ego, an ‘energetic denial of the power of death,’ as Rank says; and probably the ‘immortal’ soul was the first ‘double’ of the body.”
The döppelganger plays an integral role in the new season’s mystique. In episode three it is made clear that Evil Coop is going to be called back to the Black Lodge but he has plans to prevent this, in his own “energetic denial of the power of death.” He enacts his plans by somehow managing to ensure that Good Cooper returns to the wrong body, in this case Dougie Jones, someone who looks like Cooper but is in fact, not Cooper.
The Evil Cooper, who sits in a prison cell in South Dakota, also looks like Cooper but he is definitely NOT Cooper. Even when he tries to perform the Cooper “thumbs up” gesture, it’s obvious that something is amiss. FBI Deputy Chief Gordon Cole and Agent Albert Rosenfield are not sure what happened over the last few decades, but they both know that something is not right.
Twin Peaks has always toyed with the uncanny, often by populating its world with characters that look and act like everyday people, but sometimes not quite the perfectly put together people audiences are used to seeing on television. In some cases, this evokes amusement (like Marjorie Green or the old woman in the casino) while in other instances it evokes unease, dread, or outright fear, even if viewers don’t always know quite why.
It’s the “not knowing” that makes the situations on Twin Peaks that much more menacing. Time seems to slow to an almost unbearable crawl while the audience waits to see what’s going to happen. Unclear conversations about things take place, people do things that are inexplicable, and the overwhelming aura is that something isn’t quite right. That’s where the suspense comes in.
There is a scene in the third episode in which FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole (played by David Lynch) sits in a meeting room with Agents Tammy Preston and Albert Rosenfield. Preston shows the two men a still image from video footage of various camera angles. These cameras were set up by an unknown person to continuously film a giant glass box, a project which remains a mystery to the NYPD, who is investigating the murders of two people found inside the same room with the glass box.
Preston says, “Then on the night of the murders, on camera, this appears.” The image she displays shows a shadowy, possibly human, figure inside the glass box. Cole looks dismayed and shouts, “What the hell?” in one of the most meta commentaries on Twin Peaks that has likely ever been uttered. No doubt many of the fans said this exact phrase to their screens at least once during the course of viewing the first four episodes of the latest season.
The box, which was introduced in the first episode of the new season, provides one of the season’s creepiest storylines thus far. As the audience watches the show unfold onscreen, Sam Colby watches the glass box for hours, waiting for something to happen, for something to make some kind of sense. When something does happens, it’s when Sam least expects it and it’s both enigmatic and terrifying.
The new episodes of the show may conceal a lot of things but they do reveal one important aspect: after more than 25 years, Twin Peaks is still capable of being enigmatic and terrifying and ultimately, incredibly watchable.